A cold Sunday morning back in January I headed off to the Comedy Store in London for my first lesson in stand up comedy, I had taken leave of my senses and signed up a few months before hand, I was beginning to reflect on why I had done that.
I met my fellow student comrades a motley crew of 15 from all walks of life and little did I know then that I would be creating some amazing friendships with these people. Everyone was nervous, in the realisation that this shit had just got real people.
Our teacher was Mike Gunn a professional comedian with over 20 years experience on the circuit, so he knew a thing or two. Mike is a very laid back person who put us at ease straight away with addressing our nerves. “Everyone has been told they are shit before, and everyone has been told to fuck off, that’s about as bad as it gets really”.
It actually helped, a bit, it kinda gives you permission to let go a little bit and think fuck it I’ll give it a go what have I got to lose? I hadn’t told many people I was doing the course because they get into your head, telling you how scary it is a lot like learning to ride a motorbike a lot of death comments – the way I saw it, if I died on stage its only mortal embarrassment for 5mins I’m not going to actually pop my clogs – hopefully!
Our first lesson will be burned in my memory and probably Mikes as he got us to tell a joke that all 15 of us buggered up the punch line. “That’s great,” he said, “but you got the punch line wrong”. However, each one of us did it differently and it was still funny – in actual fact, the fuck ups are really helpful you might find something in them.
Our homework from that first week was to write a list about a given subject 10 things we loved and hated and to bring it with us the following week. I bailed out of talking about my work, which I kick myself a bit for now but that’s what happens when you listen to fear!
Each week we built on our lists and bit by bit our confidence and joke writing abilities grew with the ever helpful Mike dropping in structured advice – less words more jokes. Really he just threw us in at the deep end, just got to do it try it all out and see what works. I started to draw parallels with working for myself and this comedy business. Mike told us one day that people just don’t remember, they are so caught up in their own worlds that they won’t remember your bad gigs or your great ones. You could have a conversation at the bar with a member of the audience saying “that last guy had a great set”, unaware they are actually talking to the guy who had a great set.
All the times I had stopped myself from doing something because I thought I would be rubbish at it or someone else is already doing it and there was no room for me, there are loads of comedians for God’s sake who have their own voice, someone will find it funny some won’t and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter just keep being you. Being authentic is so important to everything in life but an audience will sniff out a person being fake quicker than a bloodhound finds a crumb under the sofa. Which again, is why social mafia needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. People only put out what they want you to see – a necessary evil when you work for yourself, it can be great as long as you stay away from the comparaisonitis situation.
Mike also pointed out things like how you acted on stage, you can’t come out all dead pan like Jack Dee and then jump around like Lee Evens you will confuse your audience and they won’t get it or feel safe in your hands. WOW! On that nugget I went home and started changing up my website, it made total sense! I was trying to fit in with other peoples perception of me rather than what I am, a sweary, straight talking, herbalist no wonder people kept telling me I was unlike how they had imagined when they met me!
I have to say the course was brilliant, it was the best £250 I have ever spent, I don’t know if Mike knows this or not but he gave me so much clarity about many things in my work and personal life – that I’m sure have been said to me in many ways before but it’s all in the delivery folks. It was something I looked forward to attending each week, to see everyone, to see how the development of their set was going. Practicing making an arse out of yourself in such a safe and supportive place was not something I expected at all, being comfortable in the vulnerability of it, I didn’t think I would feel that standing up on stage on my own but I did. I left every week feeling great, having laughed for 2.5 hours how can you not?!
Again this being vulnerable thing we all shy away from it, it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to get up on stage and make people laugh, neither is it to hold space for someone who is having an emotional fallout. You get used to the feeling though and therein lies the power of it because you look it straight in the eye and say “yeah ok I see you but I’m doing it anyway”.
The day of the big show came around quickly, all of us had our nearest and dearest there supporting us and we had a crowd of over 300 people! To say I wasn’t nervous would be a big lie, I couldn’t feel my legs before I went up on stage, the bloody microphone stand standing there like my nemesis, I got past that hurdle now I just had to hope I remembered everything! To be honest, I can’t really remember it, the adrenaline as such kinda wiped it from my memory, but we have our recordings thankfully!
I was really proud of myself for doing it, people aren’t backward in coming forwards with telling you how terrifying doing stand up is – in fact, my brother said those exact words the day before the big show! However, it wasn’t as scary as walking away from a safe career in nursing and setting up my own business and I never gave that a second thought.
Do you need to all run off and do a comedy course? I would say give it a go for sure if you feel like it, but what you do need to do is know that the fear is all in your head, even when you have been doing something for ages you can still make mistakes. I have surprised myself in the fact I am still doing open mic nights. I have no idea what I’m doing it for other than I love it, it tests me and it’s helping me find a voice who knew I enjoy it!
Its helped me with my work no end, I’m much braver than I was last year, when you write jokes you might think they are hilarious, the acid test is standing up and saying them in front of other people, it’s the only way. You can’t really be too attached to the outcome of that, it’s kinda none of your business, but you have to try. Just like work be willing to serve your audience with what they want.
Too many of us stop ourselves from trying because we might fail, failing is ok – none of us could get the punch line right on week one and we all ended up with 5 mins of material that made everyone laugh. If we hadn’t been brave enough to take that plunge we would never have known our potential.
I’m forever grateful to the randomness of that email landing in my inbox last year, I’m massively grateful to Mike and his guidance and being a bloody lovely bloke. Who knew that comedy would offer so much insight…there is a joke in that somewhere….